Is It Safe to Drink?; October 2011; Scientific American Magazine; by Melinda Wenner Moyer; 1 Page(s)
More than 6,000 chemicals pollute U.S. drinking water, yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has added only one new pollutant to its regulatory roster in the past 15 years. Environmental groups have long raised questions about this track record, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office recently joined the chorus, releasing a report that charges the agency with taking actions that have “impeded ... progress in helping assure the public of safe drinking water.”
Among other things, the GAO report says, the EPA relies on flawed data. To determine the level of a particular pollutant in drinking water—which the EPA does before making a regulatory ruling on it—the agency relies on analytic testing methods so insensitive that they cannot identify the contaminants at levels expected to cause health effects. In addition, since 1996 the EPA has been required to make regulatory decisions about five new pollutants each year, ruling on those that might pose the biggest threats to public health. The GAO report asserts that the agency has been ruling only on the “low-hanging fruit”—contaminants for which regulatory decisions are easy rather than those that might be the most dangerous. “They’re not actually doing anything to protect public health,” says Mae Wu, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.